Let’s assume you got into a car wreck and you’ve started treatments with a doctor. Let’s also assume you have serious enough injuries, ample insurance coverage, and you weren’t at fault in the wreck. You pick the right doctor, go to all the treatments, get surgery — the whole nine yards. When it comes time to settle with your insurance adjuster you think you have got the game in the bag. After all, you’ve done everything right. So why is the insurance company coming back with a settlement offer that is lower than the weekly allowance you got back in high school? It’s because they think you don’t know what you are doing. Except you are reading these inside tips from a personal injury lawyer who battles these Goliath insurance companies day in and out.
While your personal injury claim may not appear to you to be a battle from day one, you should know that it absolutely is. Insurance adjusters are told they can hand out some nuggets of gold so that maybe 80-90% of the claimants go away. That’s how they get you; people often take the bait. Dangle a carrot in front of a desperate horse — one that works long hours, is in tremendous pain and has a family to care for — and 9 times out of 10, the horse is going to take the small carrot now instead of waiting for the bigger bunch down the road.
After reading this, you are going to be loaded with the tools you need to outsmart and out-negotiate your insurance adjuster so you can get the compensation that you rightly deserve.
Make sure you do the following after an accident:
- Wait for the police to come and issue a police report and citation against the driver who hit you. This will be your best evidence against any allegation of fault on your part for causing the accident.
- Go get treated immediately after you feel symptoms to report to a physician. It doesn’t matter how small the symptoms are. The earlier you get this checked out, the closer it will be in relation to the car accident, and the better the chance is that your doctor will relate those injuries to your car accident and not to something else. When you speak to your doctor, ask him or her if in the medical report, he or she can include a statement that relates the injuries to the car accident. That connection is key so that there is proof that the injuries were caused by the accident.
- Do all the treatments recommended by your doctor and try not to miss any appointments. If you don’t treat regularly, have gaps in treatment, or fail to do all the treatment, that will make it harder when you are negotiating the dollar amount of your claim. The more medical treatment you get, the more medical expenses there are (which is good for your case), but more importantly, the more serious and sincere you appear to your insurance adjuster.
Request all medical notes, including the billing statements that the doctor has used to bill your insurance company. Carefully compile all of these notes.
Create a summary of all the medical notes with dates of treatment and what the main points of the doctor’s note was on that date of examination. Also, include with that summary, the total dollar amount billed by the physician. In many states, you can get reimbursed for what the doctor billed even if your contract of insurance paid them a lower price so the driver’s insurance company would be responsible for what was billed by the doctor, not necessarily what your health insurance paid. You would pocket that difference in price. You can also find this “doctor billing” on the Explanation of Benefits (EOB) form that gets mailed to you once your doctor bills your health insurance company. Look for the column that says what your doctor billed, not what insurance paid.
If your doctor has recommended any further medical treatment or if you are expected to need follow up care for a number of years because of your injury, you should also include future medical costs in your summaries. These are a bit harder to predict, but if you ask your doctor he or she might be able to produce a document for you that gives you the price of any surgeries or procedures that you may need in the future.
The final component is coming up with a value for your pain and suffering (known as general damages). This is the most difficult part. If the policy limits are the minimum limits ($15K – $25K min many states) then you can just add up all of your special damages (medical bills, lost wages, future medical costs, future lost wages) and then the remaining you can call pain and suffering.
If you are dealing with a much bigger policy, you will want to learn about cases that had plaintiffs with similar injuries and that were reported in the courthouse where your accident occurred (which is the most likely place that you will file your case if you cannot settle out of court). Tell the adjuster the case citation, the brief facts of the case, and the amount settled for. Most local law schools have a legal library, or you can find many cases online for free through Google or Fastcase. Admittedly, this will be the hardest component for you to value and is why having a personal injury lawyer is so very important when arguing cases with high insurance policy dollar amounts ($50,000 or more). Nevertheless, for the enterprising accident victim, this information is out there, is public and is absolutely free if you know how to search for it.
You would then just add up the costs of all your special damages and general damages, then include that in a demand letter. This demand letter is the starting point of your negotiation. The amount of it should be at least 50% or more than what you are willing to settle for. So, for instance, if you want to settle for $50,000 then, at a minimum you should double it for a starting point of negotiation. Remember, you can always come down, but rarely can you go up in price unless some new evidence emerges that can justify the cost going up.
A negotiation is a compromise. You will likely end up somewhere in the middle, which is why it is good to start at, at least, double the amount from where you want to end up. Unless you have all the leverage or a minimum limits policy, it will be difficult to get the monetary limits of the insurance policy without a personal injury lawyer. You never want to start a negotiation with the price of where you want to end up.
Never take their first offer and be patient in negotiating. If you start from $100,000 and you believe your case is worth $50,000 then start at $100K, knock 20% off your first counteroffer ($80,000), knock 10% off your second counter offer ($72,000), and knock 5% off with your “final offer” ($68,400) as a strategy. That gives you more wiggle room if you need to come down to $50,000. You can knock off more or less depending on the facts of your case and how desperate you are to get that money without hiring a lawyer. If you have found cases that value your injuries at a certain amount, then you can rest assured that the adjuster knows that and will know that going into litigation they could lose bigger amounts of money between case costs and jury trials than if they settled with you. So, they are more likely to settle, you just have to be patient. The more money you ask for, the longer it will generally take.
Finally, if you are not getting anywhere, then it is best to hire a car accident lawyer, like a car accident lawyer in New Orleans, LA. First, personal injury lawyers can review your case, review other cases, and make a detailed assessment as to what your case is worth. Second, you will need a lawyer if you go to trial. It is imperative if you are getting nowhere and don’t want to take their offer that you find yourself a lawyer and make sure you file your case within the time period allotted by the state in which the accident took place, or otherwise you might lose out on getting any money altogether.
These are the tips and tricks personal injury lawyers use to negotiate claims every day. Now that these inside secrets are known, you can go to work to outsmart, out-negotiate, and outlast your insurance adjuster who is hiding your pot of gold behind a seemingly complex system. Remember, if you run up against any roadblocks, personal injury lawyers are there to take a load off of your back and to maximize your claim for your overall benefit.
Thanks to Reddy Law Group for their insight into how to handle an insurance adjuster in a car accident claim.